An exceptionally perspicacious therapist with whom I have worked for several years once told me that her first analysis, which lasted 3 years, came to grief when her analyst appealed to projective identification to explain the fact that he fell asleep during one of her sessions with him. Shortly before the session, her brother had begged her to commit suicide with him and she was, as she put it, in a state of crisis, blubbering, and not at her most articulate. In the midst of this, she noticed that her analyst seemed to be asleep but figured he might just be looking down at his notes. When his head slumped over to the side and he awoke with a jolt and a loud snore, there was no longer any doubt in her mind that he had dozed off. He tried to act as if nothing had happened and asked her what she was thinking,. “That you’re tired?” she offered, mortified and shocked. He admitted that he was tired but proffered, “You are putting sleepiness in the air.” He explained that she had unconsciously wanted him to abandon her and had thus made it happen.
The fact that this explanation did not at all tally with her own experience of the session and of the analysis did not lead her to break off the analysis immediately — she wondered about her own unconscious intentions and tried to explore them in future sessions. But whenever she brought them up, her analyst changed the subject and seemed unwilling to work through the incident. It was this, combined with some erratic countertransference reactions on his part involving him missing sessions, that led her to leave the analysis and find someone else to work with. Had he simply acknowledged his own tiredness or sleep deprivation, apologized for nodding off, and perhaps even rescheduled the session, none of that probably would have happened. It seems that it was the very existence of a theoretical concept like projective identification in his bag of psychoanalytic tricks that allowed him to deny his responsibility for falling asleep and to attribute the “sleepiness making” to his analysand — more stubbornly than many would have, no doubt, but with the blessing of the likes of Bion who characterized one of his patients as speaking “in a drowsy manner calculated to put the analyst to sleep.”
Such moves on analysts’ parts incline analysands to believe that their doctors are nuttier than they themselves are and would do well to have their heads examined by other doctors who are not such fruitcakes.
– Bruce Fink, Fundamentals of Psychoanalytic Technique, 2007